UN Security Council to decide on new North Korea sanctions

The new proposed resolution targets oil exports and expatriate workers sent to make money for the regime of Kim Jong Un. The US-authored draft was reportedly negotiated on with China ahead of the vote.

The United Nations Security Council scheduled a vote for Friday over a new raft of sanctions on North Korea. The US-drafted proposal drastically caps oil exports to the isolated country in a bid to economically cripple Pyongyang into abandoning its missile program.

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News | 15.12.2017

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The measures in the draft circulated to the Council's 15 member states also included the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within the next year, according to Reuters news agency. Experts believe that tens of thousands of North Koreans are forced to carry out manual labor in foreign countries to make money for the regime of Kim Jong Un.

Read more: Where did North Korea get its missile technology?

The resolution also seeks to ban about 90 percent of refined petroleum products to North Korea, capping exports to Pyongyang at 500,000 barrels a year.

Washington has long been calling on Beijing to stop oil exports to Pyongyang, with China always stopping short of imposing what the US deems truly painful sanctions.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

Major achievement

In early June 2017, North Korea test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time. Testing an ICBM marked a major military achievement for Pyongyang and a serious escalation of tensions with the United States and its allies in the region, particularly South Korea and Japan.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

Trouble with warheads

At the time, defense experts said the ICBM could reach as far as the US states of Alaska and Hawaii. However, it was unclear if North Korea can field an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead on its cone that could survive reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. North Korean state media claimed the ICBM was capable of carrying a "large, heavy nuclear warhead" to any part of the United States.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

Pyongyang's nuclear tests - six times and counting

The ICBM is believed to be a step forward in the North's nuclear program. Despite pressure from the international community, Pyongyang has made no secret of its nuclear ambitions. Alongside its ritual ballistic missile tests, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests on at least six occasions, including one in September 2017.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

US running out of patience?

Responding to the first ICBM test with a show of force, the US and South Korean troops on conducted "deep strike" precision missile drills using Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and the Republic of Korea's Hyunmoo Missile II. In April, the US sent its Carl Vinson aircraft carrier towards the Korean Peninsula, saying it was taking prudent measures against the North.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

Testing the boundaries

Ignoring international condemnation, Pyongyang test-launched another rocket on July 28, 2017, just weeks after its first ICBM test. In both of the tests, North Korea used Hwasong-14 missile, but the second one reached a higher altitude and traveled a larger distance than the first one, according to the state media.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

Whole of US within range?

Pyongyang conducted its third test November 29, using a newly developed Hwasong-15 missile. US, Japanese and South Korean officials said it rose to about 4,500 km (2,800 miles) and flew 960 kilometers (600 miles) over about 50 minutes before landing in Japan's exclusive economic zone off the country's coast.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

One of the world's largest militaries

Apart from a developing missile and nuclear program, North Korea has a powerful army with 700,000 active troops and another 4.5 million in the reserves. It can call upon almost a quarter of its population to serve in the army at any given time. The North's bloated army is believed to outnumber its southern neighbor's by two-to-one.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

Vast capabilities

According to the 2017 Global Firepower Index, the North has, as part of a far-reaching arsenal, 458 fighter aircraft, 5,025 combat tanks, 76 submarines, and 5,200,000 total military personnel. The picture above from 2013 shows leader Kim Jong Un ordering strategic rocket forces to be on standby to strike US and South Korean targets at any time.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

Enemies all around

Alongside the United States, Pyongyang views its neighbors South Korea and Japan as its two other main enemies. North Korea has used US military exercises in the region as means of galvanizing its people, claiming that the exercises are dress rehearsals for an impending invasion.

ICBM threat and North Korea's overall military strength

Huge, colorful demonstrations of military might

Every year, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and citizens roll through the streets of the capital Pyongyang to take part in the North's military parades. Preparations for the rallies often begin months in advance, and the parades usually mark important anniversaries linked with the Communist Party or Kim Jong Un's family.

The proposed sanctions follow North Korea's test of an intercontinental ballistic missile at the end of November. The North Korean government said the missile was capable of hitting any part of the United States. It was the 20th time the North launched a ballistic missile this year.

Although it remained unclear how China would vote on the resolution, UN diplomats told reporters that China and the United States had negotiated the language of the draft last week.

If the sanctions pass, it would be the 10th such resolution against North Korea over its weapons program in the past 11 years. The last sanctions resolution was adopted in September after North Korea's sixth and strongest nuclear test.

On Thursday, Kim Jong Un proclaimed in a speech that "nobody can deny" that his country "poses a substantial nuclear threat to the US."

Inside North Korea: an Instagrammer's perspective

Glimpses of normality

Despite its image of being secretive, North Korea invites foreigners to discover its attractions. But traveling as tourists comes with strings attached, as special guides shadow their every step. The restrictions haven't deterred Pierre Depont, who has visited the country seven times, capturing glimpses of the locals' daily life.

Inside North Korea: an Instagrammer's perspective

Creeping capitalism

Depont first traveled to North Korea in 2013 - and has since studied the changing face of the authoritarian country. During the last two to three years, he has observed "that in Pyongyang it has become acceptable to show off your wealth." With a growing middle class and a construction boom, the capital seems to be defying international economic sanctions.

Inside North Korea: an Instagrammer's perspective

Pyongyang street style

Connecting with everyday people isn't easy, says Depont. "I had a couple of random conversations with strangers - always overheard by one of the guides." In Depont's experience, most locals don't like to be photographed. "North Korean women are definitely getting more fashionable. But you can only see it in the cities."

Inside North Korea: an Instagrammer's perspective

Urban vs. rural

Commuting in style: this underground station in Pyongyang dazzles travelers with what looks like marble walls and chandeliers. To Depont, North Korea is "an amazing space for photography. You find no advertising at all, no distraction. It feels like a whole new game." But while the capital - home to the elite - seems to be thriving, other parts of North Korea remain mired in abject poverty.

Inside North Korea: an Instagrammer's perspective

Hidden hardship

To this day, North Korea remains a highly militarized, predominantly agricultural society. Tourists, however, don't get to see much of the living conditions of the rural population. "Every little piece of land is cultivated, every square meter is used."

Inside North Korea: an Instagrammer's perspective

Staged abundance?

Tourists interested in life outside North Korean cities are taken on guided tours to showcase cooperative farms. When Depont visited one such farm near Hamhung, the country's second-largest city, it featured a little market with a variety of neatly stocked goods. Depont recalls feeling like the shop "was just for show."

Inside North Korea: an Instagrammer's perspective

Elite schools - a tourist attraction

A stop at a model school is an important item on many tours' agenda. The renovated international summer camp Songdowon was re-opened in 2014 and has been visited by the country's current leader Kim Jong Un. "There is something unreal about it," says Depont. "The kids play in the amusement room, using very advanced arcade games and around 20 modern computers."

Inside North Korea: an Instagrammer's perspective

Omnipresent militarism

The military is central to the country's identity and the fabric of its society. Around a quarter of the population is employed as military personnel, while Pyongyang has one of the largest military budgets in the world relative to its economic output. From a very young age, North Koreans grow up with military imagery. Depont came across this miniature tank on a children's playground near Hamhung.

Inside North Korea: an Instagrammer's perspective

Ritualized worship

Alongside militarism, the high level of political control and the personality cult surrounding Kim Jong Un and his predecessors are ubiquitous. The everyday worship of the supreme leader has left a lasting impression on Depont. "You see the amount of money and effort that goes into holding up the story of the great leaders and their great statues."

es/sms (AP, Reuters)